The Virginia Street corridor is the center of activity for not only gambling, but special events as well. The bright lights of the casinos and the famous Reno Arch declaring 'The Biggest Little City In The World,' greet visitors as they enter downtown.
The boisterous casinos have been the main attraction along the Truckee River for decades. The Club Cal-Neva has been around since 1948, and is still going strong as one of the most popular gaming establishments in town. Harrah's opened as a full casino the same year and the action has never ceased. The National Automobile Museum, located two blocks east on Mill & Lake Streets, houses some fascinating antique cars collected by William Harrah on his ride to fame and fortune. Harrah's Events Plaza opened in 2000 and promises to be the center for downtown events and entertainment, as well as a great place to watch the cars cruising during Hot August Nights. The Circus Circus is a favorite for family fun with high-flying acts and a great arcade for the youngsters. The Silver Legacy is the new kid on the block and already known for sponsoring major events and adding to the revitalization of downtown. The Automated Mining Machine towering 120-feet over the casino floor is a wonderful attraction for visitors. The Eldorado and Fitzgerald's are also hosts for special events, as well as popular gaming venues. Two popular nightspots are housed in these casinos, BuBinga Nightclub and Limerick's Pub & Grill. Paul Revere's Kicks Nightclub is located in the National Bowling Stadium on Center Street, one block east of Virginia Street.
'Reno-vation' is taking place in the downtown area to make more open and attractive spaces for visitors and Renoites to enjoy. The Truckee River Walk is one of the first efforts. The major casinos are also expanding and renovating in an effort to keep downtown alive and well. The whole city gets into the act to host one of the major cultural events in the nation, the Reno Summer Arts Festival featuring Artown. The Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts presents the Reno Philharmonic, the Nevada Opera and Nevada Festival Ballet. The Washoe County Library System is second to none, with the main branch located on Center Street in downtown Reno. The University of Nevada at Reno hosts numerous cultural activities at the Nightingale Concert Hall and Lawlor Events Center. The Fleischman Planetarium is also on the UNR campus for stargazing and educational classes. Marvelous museums are lavishly dispersed throughout the area including the Wilbur D. May Center at Rancho San Rafael Park and the Nevada Museum of Art on Liberty Street downtown.
Some major hotel/casinos outside of the Virginia Street hub include the Peppermill and Atlantis on South Virginia Street. Both are relatively new and elegant. East of downtown resides the Reno Hilton, a high-rise city unto itself. Thrill seekers can enjoy the Ultimate Rush located on the casino grounds.
Although it looks like its part of Reno, this is a separate, thriving city. Founded in 1904, it served as maintenance facilities for the Central Pacific Railroad. Named for then-governor John Sparks, the city has come a long way in establishing itself as not only a great place to visit but to live. The Sparks Heritage Museum displays artifacts relating to the beginnings of the town that is sometimes known as the 'Rail City.'
The hub of activity is centered in Victorian Square at Interstate 80 and Victorian Avenue. John Ascuaga's Nugget towers over the Square and the hotel sponsors many major events taking place there. Fine dining facilities in this establishment include Trader Dick's and Restaurante Orozko. Across the Square, you will find a great mid-sized hotel/casino, the Silver Club. Smaller casinos are to be found as one strolls along the Square, one of the most popular being Rail City Casino. The casinos along Victorian Square host major events almost every month of the year. Sparks Hometowne Christmas is a favorite, as well as Hot August Nights and Best of the West Rib Cook-Off.
A new addition to the area is the Sparks Marina at Interstate 80 and McCarran Boulevard. Fun for the whole family can be had at this huge 'fishing hole' with beaches and walking paths. Wild Island at Interstate 80 and Sparks Boulevard offers water slides, miniature golf and Formula K racing. A few other places to visit in the Marina area for casino fun and good food are the Alamo on Vista Boulevard, Sierra Sid's and Western Village on McCarran Boulevard.
On the southwest side of town, an enormous and handsome business park has expanded to the city limits housing light manufacturing and technology-bases enterprises. The friendly Nevada tax structure, as well as easy rail and east-west I-80 access, makes this a highly prized area for business and industry.
One look and you'll know why it is called the 'Jewel of the Sierras.' The areas surrounding the largest alpine lake in the country offer year-round recreation and beauty. Many of the major hotel/casinos have undergone significant renovation to blend in with the fragrant pine forests. The Cal-Neva, the favorite haunt of the 'rat pack,' is always popular for entertainment. The Hyatt Tahoe is perhaps one of the most elegant places to lodge and have fun. Caesar's Tahoe and Harrah's are also well known for fine dining and top entertainers.
Although the hotels themselves attract many visitors because of the fabulous gambling facilities and other amenities, the recreational activities remain the calling card. No matter what time of the year, the beauty of the lake cannot be matched anywhere in the world. During the summer months, the Zephyr Cove Resort beckons visitors to cruise on the M.S. Dixie. On the south shore of the lake, Hornblower Cruises offer sailing on the Tahoe Queen. The beaches and parks are popular for sunbathing and hiking. Sand Harbor presents the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and Kings Beach hosts the Summer Music Festival.
The ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada mountains are unmatched anywhere. While some resorts offer more amenities than others, the skiing will be outstanding at all venues. Boreal is usually the first of the season to open because of snowmaking equipment. Granlibakken offers fabulous lodging and conference facilities, as well as fine slopes. Heavenly and Northstar are first-rate for challenging ski areas. Cross-country ski enthusiasts will find the best trails in North America at Royal Gorge Resort in Soda Springs. And, of course, there is Squaw Valley USA, famous for hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics and still a world-class venue for winter sports of all genres.
History of RenoMany golden Nevada moons ago, native American tribes met in the Truckee Meadows to play their games of chance. Gaming was an especially popular activity when celebrating a good hunt or a bountiful collection of the favored pine-nuts. They played for pelts, baskets, jewelry or the most precious of all - a bearskin. Even before the first pioneers set foot in the lush meadows, there was gambling on the banks of the Truckee.
For many generations the migratory members of the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe tribes had the peaceful beauty of the meadows at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to themselves. Would their idyllic existence last?
No European-American had ever set foot in the Truckee Meadows until Jedediah Smith came into the area in 1827. In his search for prized beaver along the flowing river, he was befriended by the locals and paved the way for those to follow. In 1844, John C. Fremont led a mapping expedition with the help of a Paiute chief who escorted the party through the wilderness of the Pyramid Lake region to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Two years later, in 1846, the ill-fated Donner party would rest on the banks of the cool Truckee before trying to cross the rugged mountains on their way to California. However, their disastrous journey did not discourage those who followed during the gold rush.
Soon the Truckee Meadows became the meeting point of the emigrant trail going east to west and the north-south passage. The dust swirled in the air from the wagons passing through the valley. Ruts made by the wheels still remain as testament to the long, hard journey. During this time, an entrepreneurial gentleman named Charles Fuller decided he could make money by building a toll bridge across the Truckee to accommodate the travelers going west. In a log shelter close to the crossing, weary travelers and prospectors could rest and compare travel tales. Card games where a favorite way to entertain themselves; gold was the favorite pot to win. Gambling flourishes once again on the banks of the river.
In 1861, after having to rebuild the bridge several times because of floods, Fuller sold his business to Myron Lake, whose vision for the future was the start of a thriving community. His dream of connecting east with west by railroad would become reality. In March of 1868, the first train rolled into Lake's Crossing. Teamed with a gentleman by the name of Charles Crocker, Lake was able to exact a promise from the Central Pacific Railroad to build a depot on his property. Land in the community was divided into lots and auctioned to builders. Civilization grows on the Truckee.
During this time, the rich Comstock Lode of silver was discovered and did much to help finance the Union's side in the Civil War. After much bickering about what to name the new community, the town leaders decided to name it after Civil War hero, General Jesse Lee Reno.
With more pioneers deciding to remain in the beautiful, thriving area, and spurred by the newfound wealth from gold and silver, gambling and other vices became the 'hot button' issues of the day. Strict laws were passed to prevent contamination of innocents who might be drawn into sinful ways. In 1908 the Reno Anti-Gambling League was formed and they succeeded in their mission to outlaw the activity two years later. It was not long until laws eased to allow very restricted, 'civilized' games. This was not good enough for the criminal element that invaded the area in the 1920s.
Furtive, high-stakes gambling never stopped even with the ban on wagering. It was not long until the likes of Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd found the hidden gambling clubs to be useful in money laundering. Prostitution and bootleg liquor became big business under the guidance of these criminal masterminds.
With the decline of the gold and silver boom and the start of the Great Depression, a campaign was started by Mayor E. E. Roberts to ease the laws against alcohol, gambling and divorce. He rationalized that previous prohibitions did not work and revenues could be gained from licensing and taxing these establishments. A law legalizing gambling was signed in 1931. Games of chance had again returned to the banks of the Truckee.
Putting an end to matrimonial woes became big business in Reno during the 1930s. With only a six-week waiting period finally established, thousands of couples received a 'quickie' divorce. The rich and famous had found the ideal place to gain their freedom. Elegant hotels and dude ranches sprang from the green meadows to accommodate the influx of those casting off the shackles of marriage. Soon the Truckee River was flowing with diamond rings thrown in by happy divorcees.
During World War II, weddings became the business of choice. Judges and clergy worked overtime to wed throngs of couples hoping for wedded bliss. In 1945 alone, more than eighteen thousand couples tied the knot. The first commercial wedding chapel was established in 1956 next to the Washoe County Courthouse. 'In and Out' marriages became big business along the Truckee.
Bill Harrah and Harold Smith were among the first to realize the amazing potential in gaming establishments. Reno had the wealthy visitors and they might as well spend their money in the casinos. Starting modestly, the two soon built their individual establishments into the most popular places in town. Slot machines, crap tables and twenty-one games soon relieved many visitors of their money. The little town would soon be changed forever. Had 'Sin City' come to the banks of the Truckee?
Ever since the Nevada Territory became the 36th state in 1864, controversy surrounded the sinful activities perpetrated by the owners of 'dens of iniquity' on naïve visitors. As late as 1931, a campaign to cancel Nevada's statehood was launched by several newspapers including The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. However, this action would not prevail, and Nevada would go on its merry way. Mark Twain and Will Rogers were famous advocates for the business enterprises in Nevada.
To this day, Reno has growing pains. Hotel and casinos have been erected outside the 'red-line' district of downtown. And downtown is restoring itself in new ways reflecting the diversity of the city. Unfortunately, many of the famous old landmarks have met their fate via wrecking ball and implosion. The Reno Arch still proclaims the town as 'The Biggest Little City In The World' and will probably remain forever. And rightfully so! The town has become a center for cultural attractions and recreation. Special events bring in as many visitors as the casinos. Gaming is here to stay, but Reno has so much more to offer. Respectability has come to the banks of the Truckee.
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